“Why haven’t we always rough camped?” This is the question Tom and I were asking ourselves on our cycle around Europe. Not only is it free but it gives you freedom of adventure unachievable at any campsite.
The 8th July was our first night living it rough; we had had one of the hardest days of the cycle. As neither of us had ever camped like this before, there was a sense of trepidation whilst we looked for suitable spots. Luckily just after our target for the day we found what looked like a perfect place. Only spying it by chance, up a VERY steep hill, I was sure we would not be spotted. Even so we were cautious about being seen, not wanting to draw attention to our whereabouts. We took panniers and food off our bikes and slowly ferried it up to the camp spot, a clearing amongst trees just off a quiet public footpath. After putting up the tent and a few tarps for camouflage we lay down and stared up at the vast expanse of blue above our heads.
This is what I find most rewarding about camping rough it allows you to explore places you wouldn’t ordinarily have seen. Meet people you wouldn’t have met and more often than not find a much more secluded, pretty, camping spot than you would in a campsite. It also allows you to spend more money on food, a choice that always goes down well. Once we had found the trick for finding spots, we became more confident with where we put our tents, eyeing possible camps frequently throughout the day. On one day we made great miles early on so stopped at 160km thinking we had found a great place near a stream, obscured from the road by a few hedges. We had almost totally set up camp when we decided to move on. There were many mosquitoes and ants polluting our makeshift campsite so we made the call to pack up. This is always a hard decision. It was nearing 6 and we were both tired, however knowing we wouldn’t have had a good nights sleep there we left. The next few kilometres were not nice; we saw nowhere, not one place to put our tents. Then we hit the French town of Grenade, just off the D17 about 100m from the rowing club. We found it. The perfect spot, enclosed on all four sides by huge sunflowers at the edge of the field, we gave a huge sigh of relief. After quickly erecting the tent we settled in for what was the best night’s sleep of the trip so far.
The only hard part rough camping is the first few times finding somewhere suitable, be picky as you will have to spend the whole night there. Look for areas secluded behind bushes or in trees, relatively flat, and if there is grass that it is short. We camped in woods, forests, beside motorways, power stations and in fields, if there is space you can probably camp there. However if you can find the person who owns the land it is always best to ask before, you never know you may be invited up to their guest room? Any number of opportunities open up to those who venture into the unknown.
If we did see/talk to anyone whilst we were camping we were always met with warm smiles. Finding people being inquisitive rather than angry we were on the land. As long as you respect the land where you are staying, take any rubbish with you, stay away from crops and don’t have any open fires you will find it easy and enjoyable.
More enjoyable than any night in a paid campsite, that is what we found. During our month around Europe we spent one night in a paid campsite and it was the worst 20€ we have ever spent. “Le Close du Rhone 4* campsite” in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, southern France, was the worst night of the trip. A swarm of angry mosquitoes bit and sucked us from arrival to departure despite many showers –thinking they were attracted to our stench- it was a night of living hell. The next day commenced with a quick sprint from the campsite, bodies glowing with a multitude of large red bites –Tom had over 109 just on his right leg! We made it 10km then stopped for breakfast, to re-pack and get dressed. From that moment forward we vowed not to pay for a camping spot when we could camp rough and have an adventure.